Grassroots groups push better policies in Seattle and San Francisco

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Tuesday, July 23, was an exciting day for grassroots organizers on the west coast fighting against overbroad national security policies that extend to immigration enforcement. Coalitions in San Francisco County and King County (which includes the city of Seattle) both moved forward with legislation that would curtail the participation of local law enforcement in mass deportation.

Local action is particularly important as “immigration reform,” in the form of severe border militarization and increased enforcement, moves through Congress.

In King County, the committee on Law, Justice, Health, and Human Services held its first public meeting on a policy proposed by celebrated civil rights leader King County Councilmember Larry Gossett. The room was packed with supporters of the new policy.

The proposal, based on the language of a policy adopted by Santa Clara County, California in 2010, would limit county compliance with detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to those inmates who have been convicted of violent or serious felony. The hearing made the need for the legislation, and the huge amount of support for it, very clear.

The Committee and audience members heard from a panel of experts. Claudia Balducci, head of the county jail system, made it clear that she had no concerns around the policy. Katherine Beckett of the University of Washington, however, expounded on the results of a study of King County jails released earlier this year that showed:

ICE detainer requests significantly extend jail stays, do not primarily target serious criminals, have a pronounced impact on the county’s Latino population, and consume significant government resources.

Finally, King County Sheriff John Urquhart voiced his unconditional support of the policy. Speaking from a public safety grounded perspective, he stated that while people identify his department with ICE because of S-comm, it:

Can’t be an effective police agenda if people are afraid to call us...I have no fear that if this policy passes there will be a negative effect on public safety.

Grassroots supporters of the coalition were able to garner support from an impressive array of public officials, and their public comment emphasized the impact on the community of local immigration enforcement.

The entire City Council of Seattle, along with the City Attorney and the Mayor, signed a letter of the support. Seattle Chief of Police Jim Pugel has also expressed his support for the policy.

During public comment, one community member, a young man who came to the United States as a child, spoke about his experience: he called the police about an abandoned vehicle and was arrested and nearly deported. Other speakers included faith leaders and attorneys. Only one speaker, a former ICE agent, spoke against the policy.

In San Francisco, Supervisor John Avalos introduced the "San Francisco Due Process for all" ordinance. The introduction of the legislation was hailed by a rally organized by women against S-comm. Beverly Upton, of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, explained, “If you are a victim or a survivor of domestic violence and you call the police, you do not want to end up deported.” The ordinance:

is co-sponsored by seven other supervisors, essentially guaranteeing its passage. Avalos himself didn’t speak, and Sups. David Campos and Board President David Chiu, who were co-sponsors of the legislation, sent female staff members to make statements on their behalf as part of the all-female roster of speakers.

Much like the policy that passed in Berkeley in October of last year, the policy is strong and simple. As noted, it has a supermajority, meaning that it would be able to withstand any veto from Mayor Ed Lee, who has made little indication of his stance on immigration and has been hostile to other civil liberties legislation since he took office.

The policy would prohibit compliance with immigration detainers after an individual becomes eligible for release from custody. The key thing to understand about this is that all criminal and other legal process would still be applicable. This means if there were cause to detain someone for a crime they had been arrested for, the policy wouldn’t affect them at all.

The need for the ordinance in San Francisco is clear. Although San Francisco has long declined to comply with at least some detainers, and has been a sanctuary city for decades, it is still turning over hundreds of people to ICE each year: “In 2012, 542 people were turned over to ICE on detainers, according to the Sheriff's Department. It is unclear if they were ultimately deported.” The ordinance will simply put San Francisco law in line with existing San Francisco policy, a long-needed move.

While local policies like those in Seattle and San Francisco, alongside state policies like the one passed in Connecticut, continue to move in a positive direction, the national conversation around immigration is glossing over the danger of increased enforcement and militarization. That is why grassroots action remains necessary.

As BORDC emphasizes in our Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, immigration enforcement is not, in fact, separate from the cancerous surveillance state that includes domestic spying by the National Security Agency, among others. Check out our local campaigns, and get involved today!

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